Here is a phone interview conducted with
on February 20, 1996 live on KALX Berkeley 90.7FM during the show "A Warm Wave of Euphoria"
ME: First let's talk about the new stuff, since there are some recent developments in the OLD camp. You were just dropped from Earache. Is that right?
James Plotkin: Yup
M: That sounds like something you're happy about, actually.
JP: Yeah, we've been desperately trying to get off the label since, really, the first record we did on it. Because, well you can ask anybody that's been on Earache.It's just not a very comfortable situation.
M: The US side of the label is a lot better isn't it?
JP: Yeah, they have it together- it's just they're still kind of at the mercy of the president, who's based in England. You know, it just takes a lot of time to get things through. It's just a bad situation, really. There's nothing they can do about it, really. They do the best they can with what they have.
M: Were you stuck under contract for a certain number of albums?
JP: Yeah, there was actually one option period left, and he could have picked up for one more record. And I know he knew that if he did pick up the last one hewould be basically putting money into us that...it would just be like pretty much a waste of time because we weren't going to negotiate any new contracts with themor anything and he knew that.
M: That's a shame
JP: Ah, not really.
M: I guess it's good that you're free then now.
JP: It feels like there's this big pressure taken off, cause I mean when you're on a label like that, you're basically either making him lots of money or you're just anuisance that really kind of gets dicked around a lot. Even the people who do make
the money get dicked around on Earache.
M: Were you actually under the same contract from when you made Old Lady Drivers?
JP: Different contract. That was back when he was pretty much honest.
M: And the other new development for OLD is that you're looking for a new vocalist?
JP: It really depends. It depends on what Alan does in terms of another OLD record. I mean, if I'm going to have to go through the same motions that I had to go through on the last one, you know, to pull everything together, then it's just really not
worth it for me. I'd rather get someone who can basically pull their own weight. But, it's too soon to say anything, so I really shouldn't talk about it until I have a better idea of what's going to happen.
M: Yeah I guess that's probably a good idea. I actually want to talk a little bit about the old days of OLD. What were your influences back then as more of a silly grindcore band?
JP: Basically anything we could find that was extremely fast. It was kind of hard to get a hold of recordings that were complete speed back then. It was just basically demos.
M: Were you guys into Repulsion when they came out?
JP: Yeah we had all those demos. And basically between, I guess, '84-'87, there was just a very scarce amount of bands that would actually do something like that. So we had to hunt for the demos and then slowly, things started to come out.
M: Did you guys get to play any kind of tours for the first album?
JP: You're talking about in Old Lady Drivers?
JP: No, no, that never happened. We couldn't even get booked locally. Clubs just didn't want to deal with it. No one would come to the show anyway. I mean,back then it didn't really have that much of a fan base or anything.
M: One cool thing about OLD is you guys had such a drastic transition from album #1 to album #2. What was the reason for the long delay and what caused yourchange from one sound to the other?
JP: Well it probably mostly had to do with the drummer from Old Lady Drivers. He left and we couldn't really find another drummer that wanted to do that type ofstuff. It was just kind of like a cocoon type period. I mean, we didn't really do much
musically. We got into a lot of different types of music. So, it was just basicallynatural that the next record would be absolutely nothing like the first one.
M: What kind of stuff did you start getting into? More of the older industrial stuff?
JP: Yeah, a lot of the English industrial stuff. Umm, what else? A lot of sixties stuff really, to be honest. Really freaked out, psychedelic sixties stuff. The progressive rock and everything. We were into that for a couple years now. I mean, not just two or three -- probably more like six or seven years but it's always been there since the beginning even on records like Lo Flux Tube. There's still that melodic content.
M: That's an influence you can tell, I guess, but you have to think about it. And John Zorn was sort of a guest, almost producer on Lo Flux Tube...
JP: Yeah, he really didn't do much in terms of production or anything. He just guests on the one track and he just kind of hung around the studio just making suggestions, really.
M: Have you been able to do any playing with him since? Do you have some sort of work coming out on his label pretty soon?
JP: I started a new project (The Joy of Disease). I have to use a couple other musicians in that project but that's just a strange, song-based orientated thing that just doesn't really fit in OLD, so that's the project for his label. As far as working with him, I haven't really worked WITH him. I think there was one thing at the Knitting Factory where there was a couple people that got involved in like a lot of collaboration. That's basically the only time I worked with him besides that.
M: So you never jammed with Painkiller or anything like that?
JP: No, no...never.
M: OK. For Lo Flux Tube actually, you guys did a huge American Tour with the Young Gods. Is that pretty much the only big tour you’ve done in the U.S.?
JP: Yeah, we did a two, two and a half week thing in Europe -- but that was only really Holland and Belgium, so that was definitely the only tour that we ever got on. That was the only time that Earache was willing to put any money into promotion or any thing. Basically, the distributor at the time, Relativity, didn't even let the clubs know that we were playing so it was a big waste of time. I mean, we had a great time and it was really fun but we lost them a lot of money.
M: So that was theonly time I ever would have had the chance to see you play in California, I guess, right?
JP: Yeah, we probably played about 3 or 4 shows in California. You probably just didn't even hear about it.
M: Yeah, I know you guys played at the Bottom of the Hill (Nightbreak?) in San Francisco. I think it was '91 with the Young Gods.
JP: Yeah, that was a pretty wild show...
M: I want to switch topics because I guess around that era, when did you start doing more of your solo ambient type work? Had you just been jamming with it for a long time?
JP: Yeah, but I never really started taking it seriously until probably around the Lo Flux Tube era. I mean, I'd always screwed around and taped stuff but I never really concentrated on making higher quality stuff because I just wasn't really interested in releasing any of that type of stuff. Even to this day, I still haven't really released most of the stuff I've done just because of lack of label interest. And basically labels don't sell a lot of that type of stuff so they don't want to put too muchrisk into releasing stuff like that.
M: But I think nowadays, there's actually more label interest. It's looking up, right?
JP: Yeah, definitely. It's definitely picking up. The funny thing is that it's picking up in America a lot too, which is something that...
M: doesn't usually happen.
JP: Yeah, I would figure that stuff would kind of bloom in Europe but it doesn't seem to have done much movement over there. I don't know, it seems like the Americans are picking up a lot on that type of stuff.
M: That seems like a first, definitely.
JP: Hey, I wouldn't complain, you know. There's not too much good music that comes out of America.
M: I guess you have a point there. Was the first solo stuff you did the Swimming Against 7" or was it the stuff with (K.K.) Null or something else?
JP: The collaboration with Null was done first, I think. That was like January '93, maybe. Something like that.
M: So that was before "The Musical Dimensions of Sleastak", wasn't it?
JP: Yeah, I think it was. I definitely started recording it before "Sleastak". I don't know if it came out before or after but it was definitely around that time, yeah.
M: So how did you get hooked up with Null?
JP: I just wrote to him one day cause I wanted to get more...I basically heard a lot of hard noise stuff that he had been doing and it didn't really jump me. Then Iheard that one track that he did on the RRR comp. that came with the magazine and that was really nice. It had a lot of good atmosphere to it. It had a nice feel and everything so I just wrote to him trying to get more of that kind of material. I think I must've sent him a tape of what I was doing and he just replied and it was just built from there, really.
M: Were you more impressed with his more ambient stuff that he was doing?
JP: Yeah, I mean, it still had a bit of hard noise but it was in the background and it just kind of added a bit of little edge to it. But it was a nice kind of a...there was just a real nice loop going. It was just really nice to listen to.
M: How did the actual recording of the album take place? You guys did it separately, I would imagine.
JP: We had the same four-track so he just did his parts and sent them over to me. And then I did my parts, mixed it, and that was it. It was a pretty simple recording process.
M: So you actually had a lot more control over the process because you could mix it however you wanted.
JP: Right. I didn't do much; I just added like a bit of reverb to his tracks here and there and a little bit of EQing. That was it. I might have reversed one of the tracks....
M: I guess staying in chronological order, the Swimming Against 7" is probably my favorite solo work by you. Do you see yourself doing any more really minimal/ambient? I think that the stuff you're doing right now is maybe a little more experimental and noisy -- just a little bit.
JP: Anything specific you are referring to?
M: I guess I'm just thinking of the stuff I've heard off the comps. The "Miracle of Levitation" track ("Event Horizon") is pretty minimal, though.
JP: Well that's actually something completely different though. That was just probably one of the (only) tracks I've done without guitar. That was just bass and voice.
M: How did you get hooked up with Alley Sweeper to do the Swimming Against 7"?
JP: He just wrote to me. I knew that Mick (Harris) and Null had done 7"s for them. So they just asked me if I'd like to do a 7" and I was like, "Sure, fine."
M: Let's move on to my favorite album of all time: The Musical Dimensions of Sleastak. How did you end up with the amount of progression? I mean, Lo Flux Tube was experimental but it seems like you took it to a whole new level with the next album.
JP: I don't know really know what...it wasn't conscious or anything. I can't even remember what we were thinking at the time. I don't know what I was thinking at the time writing any of that stuff. It just kind of came out, really. I guess it's just a combination of everything we were probably listening to at the time. That's really the only way I can explain it. Because I mean there really are a lot of different textures on that record and you can...Most of the influences you couldn't really pick out just out of nowhere. If you were listening to something that maybe sounded like it, you might be able to make some connections but, I don't know, it's a strange record. It's probably the most extreme one we've done.
M: Yeah, it's interesting because your follow-up Formula is definitely a lot different -- almost just an opposite reaction. Actually, off that album you had a bass player, Herschel Gaer, who I think you said actually didn't even play on the album. How did he join the band?
JP: He just came to a show once and struck up a conversation. We had a lot of the same musical tastes at the time, and we were looking for a new bass player. Soit was just natural, really.
M: Do you want to give away where the two keyboard lines are that we're supposed to find on the album?
JP: Oh God. I couldn't even remember. To be honest, I don't even remember half the things on that record. I haven't listened to it in over two years.
M: Is that some of your least favorite stuff? How do you look back at it now?
JP: It's so hard to look back at that stuff and actually explain what I'm thinking about it. At the time, I liked it. You know, at the time, I was proud of it, I guess. It's just, I really wouldn't know what to say about it. It's just a strange record. I listen to things, I like certain parts, you know? Certain things stand out to me and, onthat record especially, I think I paid a lot of attention to detail, which is usually what I enjoy listening to about records that I've done in the past.
M: Is there any story behind the last little hidden track -- the Star Wars thing -- or was that just messing around in the studio completely?
JP: Yeah, that was just going through tapes of , you know, and just sitting around probably getting stoned and just recording anything that came to mind Certain things just kind of make us laugh. It's like the track on Formula where, basically, we stop the master tapes and then run an old rehearsal tape of -- God, I think it was my first hardcore band, like '83 or '84 or something.
M: Oh, was that on Thug -- that really noisy part?
JP: Yeah, I mean just shoving in a track for complete novelty value, really. It seems to baffle a lot of people. I don't think they understand when we actually decide to make a joke.
M: Yeah, I was curious...I don't know if you really want to speak for him, but I've always admired your guys' lyrics because they're just so completely random and off-the-wall.
JP: I've always enjoyed his lyrics. He really has a way with words and everything, which really makes it even more so annoying because he just doesn't put enough time into it anymore. He had something and he just doesn't really want to work at it anymore, so...I don't know, sometimes people's lives change -- they just go off in a different direction, so they have to end things.
M: Moving on to the remix album, "Hold onto your face". How did you come up with the idea and how did you get hooked up with the artists?
JP: Originally, it wasn't even my idea. John from Ultraviolence-- he just, out of nowhere, took a couple segments of one of our tracks and turned it into this insane,hardcore/techno track. We really liked it and everything, but then they struck up the idea of just doing a remix record. I thought, "whatever, might as well." I knew someone else that was doing that kind of stuff at the time -- Rob Gee -- and he was a pretty good friend of mine, so I asked him to do the tracks. Basically, it's noteven really our record, of course, if you listen to it. The main reason we agreed to do it is so that we could just throw on some extremely fucked-up experimental tracks that we had done. Like Alan's track (Outlive tape edit) is just a completely insane kind of tape manipulation. And then I did a live performance with turntables and guitar loops and on the turntable was just the Old Lady Drivers record and I was just kind of running it through effects and screwing around with it.
M: Was that the whole last fifteen minutes or was that just the last track on there?
JP: That's probably like fifteen, twenty minutes. I basically just inserted track ID's where things changed a little bit.
M: You said Rob Gee was a good friend of yours. Has he been involved in any other projects?
JP: Nothing that I've done, but he's like a really good D.J. and he's always traveling, doing a lot of DJ'ing. He's just really good at doing the hardcore stuff. He's gotthe production down, he's got the sounds. He knows what to do with it to make it work really well. The tracks that he remixed for us are actually surprisingly minimal, compared to what he normally does. What he did for us was really stripped down and basic, instead of his normal kind of style.
M: Around that time, when did you actually do the double 7" with you and Alan on the German label (Speeding Across My Hemisphere Records)?
JP: That's basically just cut-up material. We just rooted through really old DATs. Some of that stuff goes back to 1990, '91, around there. Between that andprobably '93-4, we just spliced things together that we thought kind of interesting. It's mor e of a novelty item, more than an actual release. I think if we were more serious about putting out like a release that would be a better representation of what we were doing then we would have used a lot of different material.
M: Yeah, I actually got the impression that Alan was more involved in the band because it seemed like he was putting out a lot more music parts of the band but I guess that's not the case.
JP: No, it was always lyrics with him and then I'd come up with pretty much the vocal patterns and the sound anyway.
M: Well let's move onto your newest album called "Formula" which just came out about a couple months ago on Earache. It’s a big change, not too drastic but it's a change for OLD. It's moved towards a more minimal, more accessible sound, I think. Were you aiming for anything in particular with it?
JP: Not really, no. I guess it's just a different direction. I don't really know what to say about it -- what comes out naturally. I don't sit down and say, "OK. I'm going to write this horrible rock ballad" or "I'm going to write this insane freak-out." It just happens normally and naturally, basically.
M: I heard a lot more techno elements in it. Some of the sound samples sound a little bit techno-y and little bits of "Amoeba" are kind of beat-oriented.
JP: "Amoeba" is basically the only thing we really used any kind of stereotypical techno kind of synths on anyway. It's just a 303. That's only on that one track. As far as the rest of the record, I really don't see it as being techno-ish. I mean, we do use a bit of the same equipment but all of the synths are basically just guitar-generated anyway. It's not like we do a lot of sequencing. Actually, we basically don't do any sequencing.
M: Were there any more use of synths or keyboards on this or was it still basically all guitar?
JP: Everything's guitar except for I think there's one guitar synth loop. No, there's two. There's one in the second track and one in the third track. And the rest of it's basically guitar except for "Amoeba" which has the 303 on it.
M: Let's talk about the vocals a little bit...There's only screaming on one or two tracks.
JP: Basically, we didn't even have a solid idea of what we were going to do while we were recording it. I had recorded all the music and it was time to do the vocals. And I figured he'd have an idea of what he'd wanted them to sound like but he wasn't really too sure. I don't know, vocoders can always save the day. You can always come up with interesting vocal sounds if you have one of those around. Basically, we just molded it to fit each track. Personally, I like the vocal change.I think it's much better than on the previous records. I mean, it's more accessible, but...
M: It has more dimensions to it, I think.
JP: Yeah, there's more things we can do with it. It’s just a better sound I think, altogether. It's still sharp, it's still kind of aggressive because of the treatment and everything to the actual sound -- the sharpness of the sound, the EQ, everything.
M: Yeah, I guess to my ears it sounded a little more accessible but then I played it to people who are into more mainstream stuff and they still hated it, so...
JP: I mean, we could even try and pretty much write a record that's completely commercial and it just wouldn't happen because there'd be that trademark there, I guess.
M: Were you expecting this album to perhaps do better because, I mean, it IS more accessible...
JP: No, being on Earache as long as I was, I learned to expect absolutely nothing so, it came to no surprise that it didn't do any better than the last couple of records. Basically, they put a record on the shelf and let it sit there and expect it to sell, or maybe they don't expect it to sell -- I really don't know. They did their best in the U.S., like I said, with what they had. But in Europe, not for one record, we have never ever gotten any promotion at all. No advertisements, nothing.
M: That's a shame. Have you gotten any offers yet for new labels? Are you looking towards any particular label?
JP: Yeah, but, like I said, it's too premature to mention anything. Basically, if I mentioned it anyway, it would probably just fall apart, so I'm not going to jinx myself.
M: Let's talk about your newer stuff because you've put out a lot of solo tracks on different compilations...
JP: I'll basically just give you a run-down of some new releases: I'm going to be in Canada to master a full-length solo record for the new Indiscrete label coming outof Ottawa. They did the Indiscrete Stereo Test Record, which I've pretty much seen everywhere I go in the city anyway, at most of the record shops. It'll just be afull-length CD of the guitar experiments, kind of similar to the stuff on the 7" from Alley Sweeper. But I guess, a bit -- well, I hope it's a bit better anyway. Youknow, I try to make the tracks better as I go along.
M: You don't sound too proud of that 7".
JP: I like it and everything. It's not a good representation anymore. I don't want to mislead people into thinking that I'm still doing that kind of stuff when I'm hoping it's getting better anyway. Other than that, there's just the new project that I started for John Zorn's label -- Avant records. It's a Japanese-only thing, so it's going to be kind of hard to get. The name of the project is The Joy of Disease, and we recorded it at Mick Harris' studio last summer. He's on two tracks, and Franz Dreichler from The Young Gods is on two tracks, which was a big thrill, because he put in some really nice ideas. Other than that, there's just the collaboration I did with Mick Harris, that's going to be on Sombient Records out of San Francisco. It's jus t five tracks of really dark, experimental music.
M: Is that more in the vein of Mick's Lull?
JP: I guess exactly what is just a connection between Lull and my guitar experiments. The sounds are really distinctive- you have no problem telling whose sounds are who's on this record. It's probably one of my favorite recordings, to this date anyway.
M: And that's coming out in a couple months?
JP: All these records should be out between April and May.
M: Do you see OLD as definitely continuing on?
JP: As long as there are record labels willing to put out OLD records, I'll be willing to make them.
This interview was completely re-formatted by Tangento 2001.
None of the actual content was altered in any way.
on James to be tranported to another killer interview conducted the very next year.
for a review of one of Plotkin's subsequent projects:
A Peripheral Blur
Tangento's OLD Feature